“I can say this very clearly — the future of cities is the future of our planet.”

In early May, I interviewed Johan Schwind, the Director of Design at URBAN-X. We talked about the origins of URBAN-X and how it evolved into a premier accelerator for startups intent on solving urban issues. Additionally, we spoke at length about how cities will be at the center of combating climate change in the 21st century.

You can catch our conversation through the audio or text formats below. Our conversation opened my eyes, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Listen to our conversation

Read the highlights

How did you end up at Urban-X?

JS: My background was in Industrial Design and I started my career in the car industry…

New mega-cities will emerge across Africa in the 21st Century | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Urban Tech is focused on improving the livelihoods of billions of people living in, or soon to be living in, urban centers. By 2050, 2.5 billion more people will live in cities — fueled primarily by growth in China, India, and Nigeria. That means New Delhi may be the most populous city by 2030 and new mega-cities will likely form across Africa to house 800 million migrating from rural settlements. Humanity is undergoing a massive shift and there will be no shortage of innovations in health, climate, and service delivery for people living in these environments.

Yet the boundary lines…

A New Era Looms

My perspective of capitalism recently underwent a seismic shift after finishing Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. The short, but dense book outlines how technological revolutions go through periodic boom / bust cycles fueled by investors first taking risks and then creating speculative bubbles that lead to financial and political crises. Perez starts with Britain’s Industrial Revolution in the 1770s and walks us up through the 2000 Dot-Com bubble to outline a pattern: technological revolutions normally have an installation period lasting roughly 25 years, in which the core components of an industry emerge, and a deployment period lasting another…

Cities are becoming digitally interconnected. Photo Credit: Denys Nevozhai

Investment in the Urban Technology industry has grown over 250% in the past five years and yet the term Urban Tech is quite opaque. It can refer to Mobility companies like Uber and Lyft that have transformed how we navigate cities, AgTech companies Bowery Farms that hope to install prefabricated vertical farms in restaurants, and GovTech companies like SeamlessDocs that help civil servants migrate away from endless paper forms. This industry, which aims to redefine life for the 1.7 billion urban residents on the globe, is top of mind for many people, but understood by only a few.

What is Urban Tech?

For reference…

In August 2019, I left my role in Strategy & Operations at Google to join Harvard’s Master in Design Engineering (MDE). The program, started in 2016, is designed to bring together people from dramatically different backgrounds and offer them a toolkit for addressing large-scale, societal problems. This year’s cohort consisted of architects, artists, biologists, computer scientists, designers, engineers, material scientists, and political scientists

The MDE program interested me because I felt it could offer a new platform for my career. I spent the last seven years bouncing around the technology industry. …

Introducing Harvard’s Master in Design Engineering (MDE)

The Master in Design Engineering (MDE) is a new program at Harvard focused on training multi-disciplinary leaders to address the world’s most complex technical and social problems. The program is unique in that it is Harvard’s first collaborative degree, hosted by both the Graduate School of Design (GSD) and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The MDE administration seeks out students intent on solving problems through interdisciplinary teams, and thus designs classroom settings where architects, engineers, computer scientists, and artists address root causes through collaboration and prototyping.

The MDE program, started…

Nishu Lahoti

Future of Cities, Data Enthusiast, Life Hacker. Harvard Master in Design Engineering (MDE), ex-Googler.

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